Aug 13, 2008

Lifestyle - Are animals getting mad at humans?

A new theory seeks to explain why the wild is steeped in anger against people
Human beings since the dawn of civilization have been the lords of their own destiny and also of all other species. From their vantage point on top of the food chain, they have ruled over the vast fiefdom that is earth. But now, some scientists believe, the tide is turning against humans. Animals are on the prowl with vengeance in their inscrutable eyes. It’s hard to believe, but the wild is literally burning with revenge.

The phenomenon is being studied through a new discipline called human-animal conflict, warranted by an unprecedented increase in the frequency of animal attacks on humans throughout the world, reported The Daily Telegraph on Monday. The theory seems more akin to science fiction than science, but for its proponents, the purported change in relation between animals and humans is a line of enquiry worth betting their careers on.

The evidence these animal behaviourists have gathered show how across the continents, there has been a spike in attacks by elephants, leopards, mountain lions, cougars, foxes, wolves, bears, dogs and dingos, not to speak of sharks, sea lions and crocodiles, and how traditional theories fail to account for this sharp rise. In Africa, for instance, chimpanzees, not known to attack humans, have started doing so. And there have been unprovoked attacks by dogs in Asian countries, and dingos and crocodiles in Australia.

Such attacks have reached such frightening levels that the animal behaviourists are suspecting revenge may indeed be a motive.

Consider elephants. From Assam to Southeast Asia to Africa, there has been a great rise in instances of the pachyderms attacking humans. “What’s happening today is extraordinary,” the newspaper quotes Dr Gay Bradshaw, director of the Kerulos Centre for Animal Psychology and Trauma Recovery, Oregon, and a world authority on elephants, as saying. “Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relatively peaceful co-existence, there is now hostility and violence.”

Bradshaw says the elephants are “under siege” from humans, and that explanations like encroachment and loss of habitat aren’t sufficient to explain the manifold increase in the attacks. She and her colleagues think there has been an across-the-species psychological collapse among the world’s elephants. Drawing a parallel between the animals and people caught in circumstances of war, the experts say the attacks are the response of a generation of traumatised elephants.
They have grown up witnessing the systematic slaughter of their families by humans and, now, they are getting back.

Bradshaw backs her claims with observational, psychological and neuroscientific evidence, and says the tolerance threshold has been breached not only in elephants, but also in other animals as evidenced by “atypical behaviours in an array of species”.

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